I wrote my first novel at 14 when a junior high classmate ran away from home.
After school, my best friend and I hopped on our bikes and scoured the suburban neighborhood, calling the girl’s name and looking in her usual haunts. We came up empty in our search, but the girl eventually showed up safe and sound.
It was that event that ignited in me an idea for a “What if?” story that eventually grew to be my first novel-length work.
I wrote that first draft in longhand — despite having some of the worst handwriting to ever spring from the Scottish education system — and became so enamored of the possibilities that I begged my parents for a portable manual typewriter for Christmas.
With the typewriter in my eager little hands, I began the second draft of the novel that I titled, He Climbed A Crooked Ladder. The story was set in Baltimore — a city I had never been to, so all the descriptions were of my local non-Baltimore neighborhood; the protagonist drove a car, even though I didn’t have a driver’s license; and it featured a rather interesting sex scene even though I was a virgin.
I finished the novel to my satisfaction sometime in high school (a third draft was written on a fancy new electric typewriter) and it has rested in a dusty box ever since. No one has ever read the finished script, but it taught me one of the most important lessons of bring a writer: I could turn an idea into a whole, novel-length story. Sure, the writing may not have been any good and the plot was probably a meandering mess, but I proved to myself that I could stick at a story and work through it until it was complete.
After that, I turned my attention to poetry (as being around pretty girls at school all day has a tendency to do) and published dozens of horrible ones in the school newspaper. This was also a very valuable lesson. Being published, even in such a small arena, meant people could read my work and offer their opinion. As you can imagine, some people (the closeted poets and lovers of secret diaries) thought I was incredibly brave, while others mocked and laughed at me to no end. Being able to accept this criticism for what it was is something every writer needs. It builds our armor for the future and strengthens our resolve to succeed.
Resolve, determination and pure pigheaded stubbornness was something I would soon discover I needed by the semitruckful.